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Turks Give Up Fowl in Bird Flu Campaign

January 13, 2006

SESLITAS, Turkey (AP) _ Villagers handed over chickens and other fowl for slaughter Friday as Turkey stepped up efforts to stem the spread of a deadly strain of bird flu.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, confirmed an Indonesian woman was killed by the virus, raising the total number of victims worldwide to at least 79.

In southeastern Turkey, where the virus is spreading, villagers who had been hesitant to give up their poultry said they would stop raising birds to minimize the chances of getting infected.

The European Union also said it will pledge $100 million to help countries fight bird flu. The money will be committed at a conference of more than 90 nations in Beijing on Tuesday.

The task of destroying poultry as a precaution in Turkey was getting easier as residents became more aware of the health crisis, according to workers in Seslitas, about 15 miles outside the city of Dogubayazit, where three youths died of the H5N1 strain last week.

``From now on, birds are finished for us. We won’t raise them,″ said Yildirim Elci, 25, who was helping his family hand over birds they had kept beneath the entrance to their house and in a stone pen off to the side.

``Our chickens aren’t sick, but we’re giving them up,″ said another villager, Fatma Ciftci, 45, just before signing a form that would let her receive reimbursement for her animals.

Turkish authorities stepped up the slaughter of chickens, geese and turkeys this week as the number of people infected with H5N1 climbed to 18. The Agriculture Ministry said Thursday that about 355,000 birds had been destroyed.

Keeping poultry in gardens is a way of life for rural Turks, and many depend on the meat and eggs. But as bird flu spread rapidly across the country, some were even killing their birds themselves _ despite official warnings not to do so _ to try to shield themselves from the disease.

Workers going house to house to collect birds have encountered resistance, but in Seslitas, many villagers said they were no longer reluctant to turn over their fowl.

``They’re not that important,″ said Kahraman Duman, 56. ``Our health is more important.″

Most human infections have been linked to direct contact with sick poultry and the World Health Organization has stressed that so far, no cases have involved person-to-person infection.

But health experts fear the virus could spawn a more potent strain easily transmissible among humans and trigger a pandemic capable of killing millions. WHO experts were carefully monitoring genetic adaptations in H5N1 samples from Turkey to see if the virus was adapting to a form that would more easily infect people.

Turkish authorities have confirmed three siblings among the 18 people infected by the H5N1 strain have died, while several others are in stable condition or show few signs of illness, suggesting the virus in its current form may not be as deadly as earlier believed. Previously, more than half of those confirmed to have contracted the disease died.

The WHO has only confirmed two of the three bird flu deaths in Turkey so far.

The bird flu outbreak that began in 2003 has killed at least 77 people in East Asia including the latest victim in Indonesia. At least two people have died in Turkey, according to the WHO Web site.

A 29-year-old woman who died earlier this week in Indonesia tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu, WHO spokeswoman Sari Setiogi said Friday. Her death raised the confirmed toll in Indonesia to 12.

The WHO was still awaiting results for a 39-year-old man who died recently. Local tests indicated he too had the deadly H5N1 virus.

Both victims had been in close contact with sick poultry, said senior Indonesian health official Hariadi Wibisono.

As part of efforts to contain the outbreak in Turkey, soldiers at a military post just outside the town of Igdir near the border with Armenia were disinfecting vehicles.

Nihat Takdil, an Agriculture Ministry official, said a quarantine for animals was being applied in 25 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Authorities said bird flu has been confirmed in 12 of those provinces and is suspected in 13 others.

``There is a ban on movement of animals in the quarantined regions. The quarantine does not apply to people, but people are being warned that these regions have bird flu cases,″ Takdil told The Associated Press.

___

Associated Press reporters Kadyr Toktogulov and William J. Kole in Ankara contributed to this story.

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